Ten months before Sarah Jones was killed in a tragic railroad accident on the Georgia set of Midnight Rider, the AMPTP Industry-Wide Labor-Management Safety Committee issued “Safety Bulletin #28: Guidelines for Railroad Safety” — an eerily prescient warning about the hazard of working on and around railroad trains and tracks. Not a single news outlet even mentioned that it had been issued. As the wrongful death suit filed Wednesday by Jones’ parents proceeds through the legal system, one question that almost certainly will arise is whether the production company, in preparation for setting up its shot that February day on that ill-fated stretch of railroad track, informed crew members of the Safety Committee’s bulletin — or whether they were even aware of its existence. One of the hard lessons that Hollywood should learn from Jones’ death is that there needs to be a wider dissemination and discussion of industry safety guidelines.
The suit alleges that Jones was killed because the production company “operated without minimum safety precautions and contrary to standard industry practices for productions of this scale and for productions involving dangerous filming conditions.” Those safety standards are clearly spelled out in Safety Bulletin #28, and according to the lawsuit, the production company violated a good many of them.
The bulletin states: “Prior to starting rail work, the production, in conjunction with the railroad representative, will conduct a safety meeting with all involved personnel to acquaint cast and crew members with possible workplace risks.” The lawsuit, however, alleges that the production company “failed to hold a safety meeting prior to filming.” The bulletin states: “Always follow the instructions of the designated railroad representative, and any written work or safety rules distributed by production.” The suit claims that the production company “failed to secure approval for filming” from CSX Transportation, which operates the tracks, and “concealed their lack of approval from CSX from the cast and crew.”
CSX was one of 18 defendants named in the lawsuit filed by by Richard and Elizabeth Jones in Georgia’s State Court of Chatham County on behalf of their daughter’s estate, asking for a jury trial. Other defendants include director-producer Randall Miller and producer-wife Jody Savin, along with their Unclaimed Freight production company. Unit production manager Jay Sedrish, 1st A.D. Hillary Schwartz, location manager Charlie Baxter, and exec producer Nick Gant and his Meddin Studios were also named, as was Midnight Rider distributor Open Road Films, exec producer Gregg Allman, and Film Allman, LLC.